Thursday, April 30, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Blur - The Magic Whip



One of the most hotly anticipated album releases this year was the long awaited new studio album from Blur. Their first new album of original material since 2003's Think Tank and their first as a four-piece since 1999's 13, Blur dropped a bombshell on the music world on Chinese New Year in February when they announced that not only were they going to play another massive summer show in London's Hyde Park (their third time since 2009) but that they were releasing a new record in April! Titled The Magic Whip, it was recorded during sessions in Hong Kong in 2013 when the band had a week to kill during their tour of Southeast Asia after a festival in Tokyo that they  booked for was cancelled. Damon had announced onstage at a later show in Hong Kong that the band had spent time in the studio but later said he was unsure if any of it would ever be released. However, it turns out that in 2014 Graham had listened to the tapes and worked on them with longtime Blur producer Stephen Street, hammering the songs into shape before approaching Damon with the idea of making an album out of it. Damon, along with Alex and Dave, agreed and they finished the record that became The Magic Whip.  It was officially released in the UK on April 27th and in the US on April 28th and was certainly a welcome surprise; I know I didn't think there would ever be a new Blur album after they finished their final tour in early 2014. 

Ever since I received my copy of the CD on the 28th I've been inundated with messages from friends and fans asking if I have listened to it and when my review will be posted online. To answer those two questions: 1) yes, I've listened to it several times all the way through, and 2) I had never planned on writing a review for it. However, since so many people have asked me when it was going to be ready, I figured I should go ahead and actually write it!  I'm going to do a track-by-track review and then wrap it up with some final thoughts, so here goes...


But first of all, a short bit about the packaging. Those of you who regularly read this site know how I feel about the entirety of the album as a work of art: for me, the artwork and packaging are an integral part of the best albums and can really enhance the listening experience. The Magic Whip comes in a jewel case with an OBI strip that has the band name and album title on the front and the track listing on its reverse. The album booklet is full of doodles, drawings, Chinese images, and scribbled and typed lyrics and notes, while the disc itself has a smiling sun-face. Overall, it's a very attractive package that continues Blur's tradition of presenting their albums in a striking and uniquely artistic manner.  Now, on to the music...

1. Lonesome Street

In keeping with Blur's tradition of fabulous album openers, "Lonesome Street" is a worthy addition to a line-up that boasts classics like "Beetlebum," "Ambulance," "Girls and Boys," and "For Tomorrow" in its ranks. From the opening lilting guitar notes to when the band burst forth in classic mid-1990s technicolor Blur mode with a Kinks-worthy guitar riff, you know immediately that the band is back in full force. And like all classic Blur, it's infectiously melodic but also has a dollop of weirdness that keeps it interesting; this is brought to us by Graham during his vocal responses to Damon's verses and, especially, in the discordant bridge that sounds like something from Blur's earlier incarnation as Seymour via Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Throw in Alex's always inventive basslines and solid, driving Ringo-esque drums from Dave (a very good thing!) and you've got the perfect album opening statement and one of the great Blur songs of their career. A more perfect way to start the album you couldn't ask for...
2. New World Towers

...which then brings us to a real clunker.  From the very first listen, "New World Towers" sounded to me like a refugee from Damon's 2014 solo album Everyday Robots. Now, I was very well-known and vocal in my dislike of that album when it first came out, although I completely changed my tune after seeing Damon play it live. I "got" the album afterwards and now I love it (although I still maintain it's let down by Richard Russell's production, but that's another story...). So the fact that "New World Towers" sounds like something from that album isn't a bad thing...but it just doesn't sound like Blur to me. This is the one song on the album (in reality the only song on the album) that to me sounds like solo Damon with Graham, Alex, and Dave as his backing band.  The sparse quasi-reggae rhythm, the production, the vocal tracks...it's all quite beautiful and Graham and Alex in particular really shine, but it's just missing that essential ingredient that would make it sound like Blur.

3. Go Out

"Go Out" was the first track released from the album, on the same day as the album announcement in February. While I and most Blur fans went nuts over it, repeated listens and a bit of perspective showed that it was a solid but unspectacular song that was very catchy but continued Damon's tradition (at the time) of not writing a Blur song with chorus. As the album release drew near I was prepared to dismiss this song even more, but you know what? In the context of the album, it works perfectly. I like it even better now; it completely fits in with the vibe and feel of the album and the sequencing of placing it right after "New World Towers" is absolutely brilliant.  It's got a pounding, bouncy rhythm driven by Alex and Dave, really fuzzy, noisy guitars from Graham, and Damon has perfected his lazy I'm-so-much-cooler-than-you-it's-not-even-real vocal delivery. This is strutting, cocky Blur at their very best. And no matter how silly it may seem, you can't help but sing along about "going to the lo-o-o-o-o-cal" and love every second of it.

4. Ice Cream Man

This is a weird one for me. When I first heard the opening synthesizer burbles and hip-hop beat, I assumed it was going to be a Gorillaz song masquerading as a Blur song. Now, I'm a huge fan of Gorillaz but I like my Blur to be kept separate, thank you very much. However, once the strummed acoustic guitar comes in and the drums and bass join in. it starts to sound more like Blur (albeit still with a strong Gorillaz vibe).  All in all, while it's not my favorite song on the album, I really like it.

5. Thought I Was a Spaceman

The lone epic on the album, clocking in at over six minutes, and the centerpiece of The Magic Whip. It starts off with a quiet drum machine/bass rhythm pattern and eerie guitar and piano chords as Damon's disembodied voice starts singing. It sounds like the sort of stuff they were doing in 1997 and 1999, but updated for 2015. It's hard not to feel pangs of regret when Damon sings "I thought we succeeded...but in fact we failed." When Dave's drum fill heralds his and Alex's entry just before the three-minute mark, the song takes off to another level. It becomes even grander when the synthesized swaths of noise come in during the instrumental bit in the middle, driven along by some fuzzed-out bass guitar and the melody tapped out on vibraphone. The song is surprisingly light on Graham until the last minute or so when he unleashes some ferocious guitar before it all quiets down and ebbs away. "Thought I Was a Spaceman" has echoes of old Blur, Gorillaz, Radiohead, and Beck, and is already one of my favorite Blur songs ever. A stunning achievement and while it's perfect as the centerpiece of the album, I think it would also have been a great choice elsewhere on the album (keep reading to see what I'm talking about).  

6. I Broadcast

Similar to "Lonesome Street," this song has a mid-1990s Blur vibe to it, but gussied up to sound more modern. It starts off with another almost Kink-ish riff on synthesizer and bass guitar before Graham comes slashing in around the 30-second mark.  It's got a bouncy verse that almost recalls "Song 2" and a chorus that would feel at home on Parklife. This is one of those songs that is great on record but will be even better live where the crowd can shout out "I Broadcast!" during the choruses.

7. My Terracotta Heart

From the very first time I heard this song, it sounded like a rewrite of "Hollow Ponds" from Everyday Robots. Musically, it sounds exactly like it should be from that album, especially with Damon's vocal melody and delivery. However, the chorus saves the song and is quite beautiful. Lyrically, it's in the same vein as "Battery In Your Leg" in that it seems to be a song from Damon to Graham about the past tribulations of their lifelong friendship. Graham's gentle and intricate guitar work is a highlight of this track and repeated listens make me like it more and more.

8. There Are Too Many Of Us

Starting off with a martial beat and a haunting synthesizer melody atop a backdrop of strummed acoustic guitar, Damon's faraway, echoey voice sings out the verses before the full band explode into life 1:45 into the song. While the song doesn't have a chorus and feels a little bit incomplete, it's interesting and catchy enough that it's memorable and one of the highlights of the latter half of the album.

9. Ghost Ship

A real standout track for me, "Ghost Ship" is Damon effortlessly writing a breezy, windows-down-on-a-sunny-day driving song that is absolutely gorgeous and catchy as all hell. Rhythmically it sounds like a song an American jam-band might play, but Alex's punchy bassline and the sun-drenched vocal harmonies take it to another level. The chorus is not traditional in the sense that it's over the same chords as the verse, but Damon's delivery is enough to differentiate it. Graham plays some exquisite, almost jazzy guitar licks throughout before a wonderful mini guitar solo. There's even some delicate saxophone toward the end that further enhances the song. One of the definite highlights of the record.

10. Pyongyang

Lyrically inspired by Damon's recent visit to North Korea, it starts out with what almost sounds like the rhythm to the cry of "bring out your dead" tapped out on a triangle.  Eastern-sounding guitar and synthesizer echo eerily before the drums and bass come in, while Graham plays some Asian-sounding twangs on guitar after each of Damon's verses. The overall effect is very moody and intense, a smoldering ember that ignites into one of the most beautiful choruses Damon has ever written for Blur.  The song ends in a wash of noise and effects that fade out. Beautiful song. 

11. Ong Ong

And then we get to the only other song on the album, besides "New World Towers," that I don't particularly care for. But while "New World Towers" is at least a little interesting,"Ong Ong" just grates on me. Yes, it's bouncy and happy-sounding, with a catchy refrain of "I wanna be with you" during the chorus that's sure to make it a live favorite, but for me it all seems too trite and twee. Damon can write these kind of la-la-la strummy singalong tunes in his sleep, and he's done it better before (see: "Mr. Tembo"). This song would have been perfect as a b-side and in fact sounds like the bastard cousin of "Money Makes Me Crazy" from the Think Tank era, but on The Magic Whip it's by far the weakest song. I don't hate this song and I certainly don't skip over it, but I tolerate it more than I enjoy it. Maybe my opinion will change if/when I see them play it live, but for now it's firmly in the "Blur songs I would be embarrassed to play to my friends who have never heard the band before" category.

12. Mirrorball

Ah, the album closer. Blur typically have some pretty grand statements when it comes to closing out their albums: "Essex Dogs," "Yuko & Hiro," and "Battery In Your Leg" come to mind, as does, of course, the majestic "This Is a Low" (which was so heavy that the aural palate cleanser of "Lot 105" was tacked onto the end of Parklife to lighten the mood a bit). "Mirrorball" starts off with some Old West-sounding guitar strums drenched in reverb and indeed the entire song is a mixture of brooding Old West meets East, with eastern-tinged string parts between the verses making an effective counterpoint with the guitar and piano. It's certainly one of Blur's best songs on the album and in line with some of Damon's best, most emotional music, but is it good as an album closer? My initial reaction after my first run through the album was to be a bit underwhelmed by the song. Then I realized the song itself is fine, it's just that as a closing track it felt unsatisfying and unresolved...I kept feeling as though there needed to be one more song to wrap the album and its statement up in a bold way, but this was it. So remember what I said before when I was writing about "Thought I Was a Spaceman?" I think that song would have been a better closing track, although it works so well as a centerpiece that its impact would have probably been blunted. Instead, I believe that swapping "Mirroball's" place in the running order with "Pyongyang" would have been a good move and would have made the sequencing of the album that much stronger. But then again, I'm not in the band, so...

There you have it. I've now listened to the album all the way through SIX times in the last day and a half and I feel as though I've got a good handle on it as it starts to get more and more familiar. Final thoughts: it's a very, very good, even great album. I don't rank it at the top when it comes to their albums...for me it's in the middle of the pack. However, given its competition (for me, "Blur," "13," "Modern Life is Rubbish," and "Parklife" are all ahead of it) that's no slight. The truth is that Blur have never made a bad album and while the potential was there for The Magic Whip to be a crushing disappointment after the twelve year gap between releases, the fact of the matter is that like their 1990s contemporaries Suede who came back after eleven years with the excellent Bloodsports in 2013, Blur not only didn't disappoint, but they impressed and delivered the goods in spades. In terms of the production, most of Blur's best albums were done with Stephen Street at the helm and he again shows his importance with this one.  The potential was there for The Magic Whip to sound disjointed and patched together given the jamming nature of the Hong Kong sessions and the fact that Graham and Street pieced the songs together from the tapes, but it's surprisingly cohesive, not only on an individual song level but as a whole. If Blur hadn't told us about the creative process that went into this record, you'd never know it was made in conditions under which they'd never previously worked.

My gut feeling is that this is probably the last album we'll get from Blur; it seems as though they wanted the final word in their discography to involve all four of them and that they didn't want Think Tank to be their last studio album. If this does indeed turn out to be the case, they've certainly gone out on top. The Magic Whip is a worthy addition to their excellent catalog of music and an inviting listen for we Blur fans who have "a love of all sweet music."

MY RATING: 9/10

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Suede

The classic Suede line-up circa 1993, left to right: Simon Gilbert (drums), Bernard Butler (guitars, piano), Brett Anderson (vocals), Mat Osman (bass guitar)

Welcome to this next entry in my series of profiles on some of my favorite bands.   Today's article is about Suede, a band that burst forth from the grimy underbelly of London in the early 1990s and became, for a short time, one of the finest British bands of the decade.  Propelled by the exquisite songwriting team of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler, along with Butler's equally impressive guitar playing and the great rhythm section of Mat Osman (bass guitar) and Simon Gilbert (drums), Suede explored a seedier, more haunting, and realistic urban vein of British rock than many of their peers in the 1990s BritPop scene. However, tensions within the band brought on by a variety of reasons led to the original line-up's implosion by the end of 1994. Regrouping with a new guitarist who also happened to be a 17 year old Suede superfan (Richard Oakes) and Simon Gilbert's cousin on keyboards (Neil Codling), Suede remade themselves and released a two more successful albums before quietly losing steam in the early 2000s and calling it a day. After solo albums and various side projects (including a surprise reunion between Anderson and Butler that led to the excellent, albeit short-lived band The Tears), Suede reformed in the late 2000s (with the Oakes/Codling configuration) and, with a great new album released two years ago, are again an active band producing great music.  How they got to this point, as well as the excellent music they made along the way, will be the subject of the following profile now that you've read my potted Suede history, so read on and be enlightened...

The genesis of Suede was at University College London in 1989 when Brett Anderson met Justine Frischmann and, along with Brett's childhood friend Mat Osman, decided to form a band.  After placing a now-famous ad for a guitarist in NME that read "Young guitar player needed by London based band. Smiths, Commotions, Bowie, Pet Shop Boys. No Musos. Some things are more important than ability. Call Brett," they received a response from a young guitarist named Bernard Butler.  He was only 19 but even at the stage was an incredibly talented musician who was obsessed with Johnny Marr's work with the Smiths. Initially playing small club gigs with a drum machine, they eventually recorded a short demo with none other than former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce occupying the drum stool. Joyce declined to stay full time, not wanting to burden the young band (who were influenced by his former band) by staying on as a member (which is quite a gracious thing to do, actually!).  Eventually they brought Simon Gilbert into the fold and, apart from Frischmann on rhythm guitar, the now classic Suede lineup of Brett Anderson (vocals), Bernard Butler (guitar, piano), Mat Osman (bass guitar), and Simon Gilbert (drums) was complete. This is where the great music (and later, the drama) really started...







By 1991, Brett and Justine had split as a couple but she was still in the band. Making matters worse, she then embarked upon what would eventually be a high-profile and extended relationship with Damon Albarn from Blur. Her tardiness or absences at Suede engagements, often because she was hanging around with Blur on video shoots, hurt and angered Brett enough that eventually she was sacked; according to all involved, it galvanized the band and crystallized their sound into what they would become famous for.  (Justine would eventually go on to fame fronting Elastica). While their brand of dark, sweeping, and despairingly romantic music was out of step with the Madchester/baggy and shoegazing sounds then in vogue in the early 1990s UK, they continued to gig while the Anderson/Butler songwriting partnership began to bear real fruit. They began to attract the notice of the UK music press and even ended up on the front cover of Melody Maker with the headline "Suede: The Best New Band in Britain." Eventually signing with indie label Nude Records in 1992, they released a trio of singles that were stunning in quality and sound for such a young band: "The Drowners," "Metal Mickey," and "Animal Nitrate." Furthermore in what would become a Suede tradition these songs had B-sides that were as good as (or sometimes, better than) their A-sides. Suede's B-sides would continue to be of such high quality that many of them outshone album tracks and would eventually lead to a double-album release later in the 1990s.

Their self-titled debut album was released in 1993 and quickly went to #1 in the UK charts. It was full of incredible songs in addition to the first three singles, such as "So Young," "She's Not Dead," and "Pantomime Horse." The palpable sense of despair, longing, and doomed romanticism permeated every one of the album's songs and was so unique amidst what contemporaries like Blur, Pulp, and Oasis were doing. Even given the success of the album in the UK, as well as its respectable performance in the US (where it remains to this day Suede's biggest selling album), things were not well within the band. Bernard Butler was unhappy with producer Ed Buller while he and Brett, whose songwriting partnership had been so productive and successful, were moving in totally opposite directions. While Brett and the rest of the band were enjoying their fame and increasing their indulgences in drugs and alcohol, Butler was moving into writing and arranging more complex music. A grueling tour of the USA in support of their first album with the Cranberries as their opening band turned out to be the beginning of the end for Suede Mk. I as the two bands eventually swapped positions on the bill since the Cranberries were more popular with American audiences than Suede (there's no accounting for taste, I suppose). While the debauchery of the road was described years later as "wicked" by Mat Osman, Butler was dealing with the death of his father back in England and his recent engagement; he had no interest in partying with the rest of Suede and even took to riding on the Cranberries' tour bus between shows. Worst of all, they were sued by an obscure American smooth-jazz singer who had trademarked the name "Suede" in the USA; from then on the band have been legally forced to use the name "The London Suede" in the USA which not only sounds terrible but, as Brett said years later, is NOT the true name of the band. A standalone UK #3 single, "Stay Together" was released between the first two albums and while much loved by Suede fans, the song and its video have been disowned by the band (unfairly so, in my view).  During their UK tour of early 1994 Bernard Butler played what would turn out to be his final show with Suede as work on their second album proved to be the final nail in the coffin for his tenure in the band.  Brett Anderson had recently moved into an old, isolated Victorian mansion in Highgate and escalated his intake of hallucinogens in pursuit of artistic enlightenment and inspiration. He was also going through trying personal times in his romantic relationship while Butler took some swipes at him in the press. The major factors leading to his split from the band were Butler's presentation of longer and more elaborate songs and more critically, his dislike of Ed Buller's production: he felt it was lacking and that he could do a better job, while Brett, Mat, and Simon sided with the producer. Bernard gave them an ultimatum: Buller or me, and shockingly they called his bluff.  The album, which would be released as Dog Man Star pate in 1994, was still some distance from completion and required overdubs from Butler which took place alone in a different studio, while Brett had to finish writing lyrics and replaced all of his guide vocals with proper tracks. One song, "The Power," didn't even have final guitar parts by Butler and was completed by a session guitarist who used Bernard's demo for reference. The end result was an album that, while a critical darling now considered Suede's masterpiece (an assessment I wholeheartedly agree with) which sold respectably and reached #3 in the UK album charts, was completely overshadowed in a year that was dominated  by Blur's Parklife and Oasis' Definitely Maybe. It's a shame because from beginning to end it's a stunning record, from the striking album cover to the gloomy, romantic, and despairing music contained within. Such exquisite songs like "We Are the Pigs," "The Wild Ones," "Daddy's Speeding," "New Generation," and "The Asphalt World" stand up alongside anything anyone else in 1990s rock was producing. The album as a whole presents a look at England and relationships that is seedier, darker, more violent, and rougher than what was going on around them in the dayglo BritPop scene, making it out of step enough from the rest of the BritPop/Cool Britannia movement that it was never mainstream despite being as good artistically as anything else.






So there Suede found themselves at the end of 1994 with an album that deserved far better than its commercial fate and without their guitarist who also happened to co-write all of their songs.  The latter issue was quickly resolved by bringing in Richard Oakes to fill the vacant spot. Oakes was a 17 year old Suede fan who had sent in a demo tape of himself playing Butler's parts note-for-note, much in the same way Butler had made tapes of himself doing the same to Johnny Marr's guitar parts from the Smiths a decade earlier.  He even looked the part, with long black hair and a red Gibson ES-355 just like Butler played. Indeed, Bernard was less than impressed, criticizing his old band in the press as having replaced him with a "copy."  The band toured Dog Man Star in 1995 but as it was an album recorded by an incarnation of the band that no longer existed, their hearts weren't really in it.  Regrouping for their next album, Anderson decided the band would make a pop album where every track could be a single, similar to his and Osman's beloved 80s pop records. Bringing in Simon Gilbert's cousin Neil Codling on keyboards, the resulting album, Coming Up, was released in 1996 and was a bold and bracing statement from Suede Mk. II. Eschewing the dark, 70s glam sartorial style of the original lineup, the new version of the band favored of an all-jet black look (hair, leather jackets, t-shirts, jeans, and Dr. Martens) as they underwent a visual as well as a musical makeover. The resulting album showed that musically the band were as good as ever with Oakes a more than capable replacement for Butler while Codling's keyboards added a new texture to their sound.  The album itself was a big success with Brett's prediction proven to be half correct; a whopping FIVE of the album's ten tracks were released as singles, all reaching the top 10.  However, the following album would prove to be more problematic...

Suede Mk. II (1995-present), Left to Right: Gilbert, Richard Oakes, Osman, Anderson, Neil Codling

In between 1996's Coming Up and its follow up, 1999's Head Music, Suede released a double album compilation of their B-sides called Sci-Fi Lullabies. What this album did was show the rest of the world what Suede fans had known for years: that the band's B-sides were of a quality equal to or surpassing many other band's album cuts.  Standouts like "My Insatiable One," "He's Dead," "To the Birds," "Together," and "Young Men" were just some of the riches to be found on this compilation.  Focusing on new music, however, all was not well in the Suede camp during the making of Head Music. Brett had sunk even further into his drug habit, now becoming addicted to crack cocaine. In order to cope with the increasingly chaotic sessions, Richard Oakes began to drink heavily while Neil Codling began suffering from the effects of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).  Coupled with a more electronic and experimental sound, it all added up to a recipe for disaster and while the resulting music wasn't terrible, it was inconsistent and contained the single worst song Suede ever recorded (the Neil Codling-penned "Elephant Man").  The album did, however, contain some absolute stunners like "Electricity," "She's In Fashion," "He's Gone," and "Everything Will Flow." It went to #1 in the UK album charts but there was a sinking feeling that Suede were a spent force as Brett's lyrics veered into self-referential self-parody and the experimental approach to the music didn't come off as well as hoped. Codling's CFS caused him to leave the band shortly thereafter, further upsetting Brett as he struggled to and finally succeeded in conquering his drug addictions. Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, the band recruited former Strangelove member Alex Lee as Codling's replacement and recorded 2002's A New Morning.  Vilified by the band and fans alike, the album proved to be Suede's nadir and while there are some decent songs ("Lost in TV," "Beautiful Loser," and "Astrogirl") overall it was an unsatisfying confection: Suede as toothless, middle of the road pop band.  After playing some gigs where they performed each of their albums in full on successive nights and releasing a single compilation with two new tracks, the band quietly split up in 2003.  Brett would go on to reunite with Bernard to form the band The Tears, who recorded and released an excellent album entitled Here Come the Tears. They played several gigs around the UK and Europe and even supposedly recorded a follow-up album that sadly remains unreleased as they quietly disbanded a short time after.  In the immediate aftermath of his leaving Suede, Bernard had recorded two excellent albums with soul singer David McAlmont as well as two uneven but solid solo albums.  Following the demise of the Tears, Brett released some low key solo albums that were quite good but sadly got little exposure.  However, after years of rumors and clamoring from fans, Suede got back together (with Codling back in the fold) for a one-off show in 2010 for the Teenage Cancer Trust.  They continued to play some festival shows and handfuls of gigs around the UK and Europe before the reunion finally became official.  Their most recent album to date, 2013's Bloodsports, brought the band's sound up to date while still retaining all of their trademark touches...the result was a fantastic work that is among their best and stands up to any of their excellent 1990s work.  The same goes for the B-sides associated with the album's singles.  Suede are rumored to be working on a new album that will hopefully be released within the next year, showing that they are back for good as a creative force to be reckoned with; the music world and die-hard Suede fans are all the better for it.




Personally, Suede were a band I discovered relatively late in my musical development; it wasn't until I was around 20 or 21 years old when I finally bit the bullet and sought out some of their music to listen to. I'd been a Blur fan for several years by this time and had certainly heard of Suede but I'd never taken the time to listen to their stuff until I hit my early 20s. I can say without exaggeration that I was absolutely blown away from the very first listen. Beyond the great music and the mood and emotion they conveyed, the guitarist in me fell in love with Bernard Butler's playing and I added another huge influence to my pantheon of guitar heroes.  His sound, his guitar tone, his songwriting, and his approach to playing all loomed very large in my own playing and he's a major influence on me to this day.  Like another mutual hero of ours, Johnny Marr, Butler mastered and expounded upon the approach of playing chordal lead lines and rhythm parts at the same time. He even influenced some of the gear I now use: his red Gibson ES-355 (with a Bigsby vibrato arm) played through a Vox amp is a key component of his sound. While I've long been a lover of Vox amps, I hadn't ever used semi-hollow bodied electric guitars but after getting into Suede, in 2005 I bought an Epiphone ES-335 (a great guitar made by the Gibson company but for a quarter of the price!) and I installed a Bigsby vibrato on it.  Since then, it's been my go-to guitar for the majority of my playing, a really versatile workhorse that not only affected my playing by my songwriting as well. I've also worked very hard at incorporating Bernard's technique into my own playing...while I'm not nearly as good as he is, I'm getting there! Musically they've given me a wealth of material to enjoy and are one of the bands where absolutely every track they release is essential to have. I've got all of their B-sides and oftentimes will listen to just those on their own, they're that good. Because I don't have personal experience with most, if not all, of the aspects touched on in the darker reaches of Suede's music, I can't personally relate to much of it even though I continue to enjoy the hell out of it. There still are, however, many, many of their songs that mean a lot to me for reasons having to do with love, loss, uncertainty, confusion, and yes, even happiness. Just like the Smiths, Suede are often unfairly labeled as a "depressing/gloomy" band, but they have their fair share of songs about the various joys of life, love, and music.  Perhaps more than most bands from my own generation that I'm into, they've had the strongest impact on my own music-making and as such, deserve their lofty position in my hierarchy of favorite bands. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Mods: The New Religion: The Style and Music of the 1960s Mods


As an American growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, to me Mod was something that was from another era and another country.  I became familiar with it through my Anglophilia which began when I was a child, as well as the British rock music of the 1960s that I immersed myself in growing up. Not only was I obsessed with (as I continue to be now) the music, but the fashions held an equally strong fascination for me. I did my best to emulate them however I could growing up in small town New England with the way I dressed, especially during high school: tapered-leg jeans, leather Oxford shoes or Dr. Marten's, turtlenecks, collarless dress shirts, pop art t-shirts, longish hair in a Beatles-style haircut (not easy when you have naturally curly hair!), and sideburns. I certainly wouldn't ever say I was a Mod, but I did the best I could given the constraints of the time and place I grew up in and the fact that my only points of reference for what was Mod was based on pictures and videos of 1960s British bands (Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Who, etc) and all the hours I spent studying my dad's copy of Quadrophenia on vinyl. If only a book like Paul "Smiler" Anderson's Mods: The New Religion had existed twenty years ago, my task would have been that much easier.


***special thanks to Neil at Omnibus for sending me a copy of the book to review!***

For the uninitiated or unfamiliar, Mod was a movement that developed in the late 1950s in post-WWII Britain as a youth-driven escape from the drabness and austerity of the post-war era.  Although skiffle and rock music had grown popular during the decade, the Mods rejected the white American and British attempts at appropriating rock and roll's blues, R&B, and jazz roots and instead sought authenticity by going straight to the source. Alongside this were the Mods' love and appreciation of sharp clothes, scooters, and all-night dancing and socializing fuelled by vast quantities of then-legal amphetamines. What started as an individualistic youth cult in London slowly began to spread throughout all of Great Britain as the various Mod pockets paid attention to what the others were doing in terms of their look and dances as they constantly tried to one-up each other. There were the usual clashes between the young Mods and their parents as well as sensationalized reports in the press predicting the ruination of British society as a result of their amphetamine use and carpe diem approach to life the Mods had. For these kids, life was about spending whatever money they made at their menial jobs on the sharpest clothes, the latest R&B records, Vespa or Lambretta scooters and their accessories, and the various speed pills they could get, all the while spending every spare moment they had dancing and listening to their favorite R&B music, be it via DJs playing records or live bands.  Clubs sprung up all around London and the rest of the country while the Mod aesthetic was beamed to the country's living rooms every week on Friday night via the influential Ready! Steady! Go! television show. American acts like Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Water, Otis Reading, and James Brown (to only name a few) were held in high esteem alongside homegrown British acts like the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, the Small Faces, and other lesser known but no less influential names like Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, and more. However, the seaside riots of 1964 that pitted Mods against gangs of rival Rockers made national headlines and gave Mod even more negative connotations in the eyes of the older generations.



The high water mark for the entire movement was 1966 when Swinging London was at its apex. From here through to the end of the decade as Mod became mainstream and commercial on both sides of the Atlantic, it slowly withered away as its strongest adherents incorporated elements of the psychedelic movement, which was now all the rage, as Mod morphed into something else entirely.  Additionally, many of the earliest Mods were now by the late 1960s graduating from school, getting married, and starting families and careers, thus having neither the time, money, energy, or desire to keep up the lifestyle any longer.  Concurrent with this, the biggest of the Mod bands outgrew and evolved their images and sounds, chief amongst them the Who, Kinks, Stones, and Small Faces (who by the end of the decade were known as Faces and featured Rod Stewart replacing Steve Marriott on lead vocals).  The younger siblings (both literally and metaphorically) of the original Mods adopted many of the same trappings but added close-cropped haircuts and more extreme violence to become what the media dubbed Skinheads.  By the early 1970s Mod was for all intents and purposes dead, yet the Who's 1973 album masterpiece Quadrophenia kept the flame flickering until the movie adaptation in 1979 led to a full-on Mod revival, led musically by British group The Jam.  Mod continued to hold a fascination for people too young to have experienced it firsthand throughout the 1980s and 1990s, again coming to the forefront during the 1990s BritPop era.  Even in 2015, there are many folks both young, old, and original who still embrace some if not all of Mod and what it has to offer.



So there's a potted history of the Mods which now leads into the heart of this book review: if you want the real story about Mod, told straight from the mouths of those who lived it and created it, then Mods: The New Religion is the only book that matters. Paul Anderson is a second generation Mod and an expert on the movement and what he has given us is the true Mod bible. Weighing in at a hefty and densely packed 300 pages with a gorgeous hardcover, the book traces the history of Mods from the immediate aftermath of WWII to their rumblings and growing pains in the late 1950s before they finally exploded into a legitimate movement in 1960.  From here the scene is traced through chapters dedicated to the fashions and styles, the music, the dances, the clubs, the drugs, the scooters, and the various bands that made up the whole thing. While Anderson describes each of the factors that make up Mod in detail, he lets the folks who were really there tell the story through interviews and reminiscences that place you squarely back in that time and place. For someone like me who has always wished I could have lived through that decade in that city (London) this book is the closest I will probably ever come to feeling like I was actually there: the feeling was nothing less than magical and I say that with no degree of hyperbole or drama. Each chapter contains so many of these great memories told by the original Mods, plus the book is as appealing visually as it is verbally. Every page is crammed full of photos of memorabilia, concert posters, newspaper clippings, ads, record labels and covers, band photos, and more. What makes it even cooler are the numerous photos of the interviewed Mods themselves, frozen forever in time with their fashions, having fun, relaxing, dancing, or just mugging for the camera. The addition of real human faces to the stories help transport the reader even more firmly back to those exciting times. Along the way there are more subtle but no less fascinating nuggets of information to be learned, including several that I had either never known or had never thought about in the way that the book presents them. Among them: the Mods had a disdain for straight-up rock music which was one reason that, alone amongst the big British bands of the 1960s, the Beatles were never Mod favorites even though they dressed the part and cut their teeth on the same American blues and R&B records the Mods held equally as dear; purist Mods never considered the Pop Art movement of 1965-66 as anything to do with Mod; most Mods had an intense dislike of psychedelia and they despised most American rock bands of the era (Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead come in for particularly severe kickings!), leading many Mods to become disillusioned with the whole movement and drop out of it completely; and that Marc Bolan's transformation from early 1960s hard London Mod to late 1960s psychedelic flower-child to early 1970s glam rock superstar was a fairly calculated and ambition-driven metamorphosis than anything else.  Equally fascinating was to read about how so many giants of both the 1960s era and the subsequent 1970s rock scene all intersected throughout the decade via Mod. Besides the members of the aforementioned Who, Beatles, Kinks, and Stones, major players included Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds), Jimmy Page (session guitarist and The Yardbirds), Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds), Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Ronnie Wood (the Birds), and many more.



Mods: The New Religion was one of those books that I just could not wait to read each and every day; I was quite sad once I was finished with it as it was an absolute blast to read with every sitting. It was immersive, engrossing, interesting, and a true book-as-time-machine. A real pleasure for the senses, it not only caught the eye and the imagination, but it made me delve even deeper than I'm already familiar with into the sounds of the era by seeking out the more obscure records it mentioned, a task made immeasurably easier with 2015 technology such as Spotify and YouTube. If there is one complaint I have with the book, and it is a truly minor one, it's that the epilogue dealing with the death of the original Mod era and its subsequent revivals was a bit too short and rushed for my liking...it was only a few pages when I would have been perfectly fine with a full chapter on the subject. However, it was still a satisfying conclusion and a worthy enough way to wrap the book up in a satisfactory manner.  Perhaps the best thing the book did for me was to make me realize that, while I was far from a real Mod in my youth (plus I'm not that into dancing and I've never used drugs), in my own way I did my own small part in keeping the spirit of the clothes and music alive in my youth and I try do the same now.  Mods: The New Religion shows that while only a select few of us were true Mods who lived and breathed everything it had to offer for that brief golden period of 1960-66, in our own ways there are countless more of us may be, in whatever small proportions, Mods ourselves.  I absolutely loved this book and I've no doubt anyone else interested in the era also will. The subtitle of the book is completely appropriate: if Mod was the new youth religion of its era, Paul Anderson's book is its bible and the final, definitive word on the subject. Simply put, if you love Mod, you need this book.

MY RATING: 10/10

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Concert Memories: R.E.M. at Earls Court Arena, London, England June 22, 1999

My very faded ticket stub
 
R.E.M. - Earls Court Arena, London, England June 22, 1999

R.E.M. are a favorite band of mine and for most of the 1990s, they were one of my big obsessions. I managed to see them three times, all in 1999. The first time was also one of the most memorable concerts I've ever been to because it was the first and only concert (so far) that I've seen outside of the country.  In the summer of 1999 I was 19 years old and halfway through college, playing in a band with my brother and our childhood friend Theo, and just starting to really go see lots of concerts on my own.  That spring my parents planned a trip to take me and my siblings back to London, where we hadn't been since 1993. My mum noticed that R.E.M. were supposed to be playing two nights at Earls Court when we'd be there...in fact, the first night was the very day we were arriving! She suggested I order some tickets, so I promptly ordered three tickets: one for me, one for my brother, and one for a mutual friend of ours whose family was also traveling to London with us. I had decided to have the tickets mailed to our house since it was still roughly six weeks until we flew over; it was a decision I would end up regretting as it caused me a lot of stress later on!

As a bit of backgrounf on how I got into them, I'd been a massive R.E.M. fan for years, dating back to when I first heard the big singles from their Document album in 1987 ("The One I Love," "It's the End of the World As We Know It.").  I used to see those videos on MTV, too, and I know I'm dating myself by recalling a time when MTV and music videos were a huge part of a band's promotional strategy!  When Green came out in late 1988 and their popularity exploded, so too did my fandom even though I was only 9 years old at the time.  The songs and videos were everywhere and from then on, they have been one of my favorite bands.  By the time 1999 rolled around they were minus Bill Berry but had been the biggest American rock band on the planet for a decade and I just had to see them. As I mentioned above, this was to be the first time out of three that I saw them on this tour although at the time I didn't know that...

As the day of our departure drew nearer I still hadn't gotten the tickets in the mail, so I called up Earls Court and asked if I could switch the tickets to will-call. They were happy to do this, which was a relief. Our flight left in early evening from Boston and, accounting for the time change, arrived in London around 6am local time. Typically for these trips across the pond the plan is usually to stay awake throughout the day and then go to bed in the early evening in order to get a good night's sleep and get your body acclimated to the time difference. However, my brother and I and our friend Matt couldn't do this since we were going to see R.E.M.!  We checked into the hotel, wandered around the city, and had our dinner. When the rest of our families were going to bed, however, we hopped on the Underground and took the tube to Earls Court. I have to admit that it was a real thrill when we walked around the corner and saw the famous art-deco facade; the venue is legendary in rock music circles for all of the huge concerts that have been played there over the years, from the Rolling Stones, Genesis, and Pink Floyd to David Bowie, Oasis, and my personal favorites, Led Zeppelin.  The fact that I was going to be seeing a show in the same arena that Led Zeppelin played their incredible five-night stand of shows over a week in May 1975 was a real thrill for this rock-obsessed 19 year old. However, everything I had previously read about the place was also true...it was huge, cavernous, and the acoustics were atrocious for concerts!

We went into the lobby and made our way to the will-call window, where I told the girl my name so she could find the tickets. We stood there chatting and I was feeling relieved that everything had gone smoothly when she came back and told me there were no tickets under that name. I was absolutely freaked out and told her the situation: that I had ordered them weeks ago, they hadn't arrived before we were going to leave, I'd called the ticket office to have them switched to will call...she went to go get her manager. As I stood there wondering if we were going to be able to see the show, the manager came back with a big smile on his face and an envelope with my name on it that contained the three tickets! Phew!  It turned out that after I had called they had pulled our tickets out from the batch that were to be mailed out, but they hadn't put it into the will-call batch. It had been sitting on his desk with a several other ticket envelopes that had also been switched from mail to will-call.  In any event, we had our tickets and could now get in to see R.E.M.!

Upon entering the arena, I was surprised at what I saw: it seemed almost like a huge hangar inside, which makes sense in retrospect as Earls Court was first and foremost designed to be an indoor exhibition center.  There was a huge general admission area in front of the stage and ringing it were barriers behind which the assigned seating was...the whole arrangement was a horseshoe shape around the larger GA area. We were right at the front of an assigned seating section a bit to the right of center stage.  As we sat there waiting for the opening act to come onstage, jet lag began to kick in and the three of us took turns trying to keep each other awake.

Wilco opened the concert and while they are a band I had heard of, I don't remember anything of their set. I know that they had and continue to have a devoted following but I've never been a fan and I honestly don't remember much about them beyond thinking they were okay. After they finished and the stage was set up for the headliners, the lights went out and everyone rose as R.E.M. hit the stage.  "Airportman" played over the PA as the band took the stage and the crowd started cheering wildly.  As you can see below, their set was a great cross-section of material from their entire career, including going all the way back to their debut album Murmur with a personal favorite of mine, "Pilgrimage." The set was understandably heavy on material from their latest album Up, but what struck me was how much stronger the new material sounded live even though I was and still am a fan of the album.  There was also a new, unreleased song ("The Great Beyond") which I thought was great and couldn't wait to get when they finally released it.  During the encore section, Michael came onstage with a big smile and asked us to bear with him while he did something he'd never done before: he strummed an acoustic guitar and sang "I'm Not Over You" solo, which was pretty neat.  They also played "Gardening at Night" for the first time since 1986 which was a treat!

There were only two downsides to the entire experience: first, the sound in Earls Court really was atrocious. Loud, echoey, booming...the sound mix, if you can call it that, was appalling. It wasn't surprising and it was no fault of the soundman, but it was pretty disappointing nonetheless.  Secondly, there the three of us were sitting in a huge arena at a loud rock concert and we were struggling to stay awake! I remember that about halfway through the concert, I sat back down in my seat because I was too tired to stand and the entire time I was sitting I had to fight very hard to stay awake. At one point I did doze off sitting upright in my seat before I snapped awake and realized I was sleeping through one of my favorite bands playing right in front of me!  When we got back to the hotel, my body hurt so much from fatigue that I literally fell into bed fully clothed and slept in late the following morning.  It was a fun concert although the terrible sound meant it was the least favorite R.E.M. concert that I saw that year. Still, I had finally seen them live and it was in London, which was (and still is!) pretty damn cool. The next two times I saw them would be much better...and I'll write those up at a later time.

Below is the great set list they played that night. I have a recording of the show somewhere in a box in my basement, along with the ticket stub.  If and when I find the stub, I will add a picture of it to this post. I actually got the recording of this show from a guy I used to trade R.E.M. tapes with back in the late 1990s whom I actually met later on that year, but that's a story for another post...

Set List:

Airportman
Lotus
Crush With Eyeliner
Suspicion
New Test Leper
The Apologist
Pilgrimage
Daysleeper
The Wake-Up Bomb
Electrolite
Driver 8
Sweetness Follows
At My Most Beautiful
Losing My Religion
The Great Beyond
Find the River
Pop Song 89
Life and How to Live It
Walk Unafraid
Finest Worksong
Man on the Moon

Encore:
I'm Not Over You
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
Tongue
Gardening at Night 
It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Paul McCartney: A Life


He's one of the most famous musicians on the planet, a former member of the most famous rock band of all time, and one half of the greatest songwriting partnership of the 20th century. He's been in the public eye for 53 (and counting) of his 73 years on this planet and every aspect of his life has been gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Still, Paul McCartney remains somewhat of an enigma as he has always guarded his emotions and true feelings from all but the handful of people closest to him.  Published in 2009, Peter Carlin's biography Paul: A Life is usually held up alongside Howard Sounes' Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney as one of the better biographies on Paul (not counting Paul's autobiography Many Years From Now).  I've previously reviewed Sounes' book so I was eager to read and review Carlin's book, which I've heard good things about, in order to see how it compared.

***special thanks to Courtney at Touchstone Press for sending me a copy of the book to review!***


While overall I liked Sounes' book, it had flaws that marred my enjoyment of it; these were mainly misinformation that he cited and his lack of emphasis (and seeming disinterest) in Paul's music.  One of the first things I noticed about Carlin's book was that he had a list of references and endnotes at the end of the book, giving me confidence that it should be for the most part a fairly accurate book.  Starting with a vignette of Paul onstage in Liverpool in front of thousands of adoring fans, we are then transported back to post-War Liverpool and the story of how Paul's parents, Jim and Mary McCartney, came to meet, marry, and settle in Liverpool. Soon after, Paul and brother Michael arrived and the family was complete.  There isn't anything new in the author's telling of Paul's childhood and he breezes through it quite rapidly: the period covering Paul's school years and the sudden death of his mother in 1956 were covered in roughly twenty-five or so pages before we finally get to the big event of 1957...the day John and Paul officially met each other.  Carlin takes Paul's story through the Beatles years without anything that will surprise any seasoned Beatles fans although it is clear that, unlike Sounes, Carlin is a fan of their music; his discussions focuses mainly on the various albums and songs Paul worked on and released throughout his career in a way the other book didn't. He does a good job capturing Paul's anguish and the sorry state he was in during the immediate aftermath of the Beatles split and how he transitioned first into a solo career before forming Wings. From here, we get through the Wings years with a nice history of the band including some perspective on Linda as a musician.  While she clearly wasn't too talented (and she would have been the first person to admit this, as she did many times over the years as well as in this book) everyone Carlin either spoke to or quoted mentioned that what she lacked in talent she made up for in perseverance and a good attitude. Again, a nice contrast from the Sounes' book where he was much more backhanded in his praise of Linda when discussing anything about her life and considered her little more than a predatory groupie who nabbed a Beatle.



From this point onward to the end it seemed as though the book was a bit rushed.  The overall length of the book is only 350 or so pages and the period from Paul's 1980 bust in Japan to the end took up a bit less than a hundred pages.  When discussing Paul's struggling career in the 1980s there are quite a few instances of people recalling haughty and arrogant comments he made when things weren't going his way; none of it was too surprising and many have been discussed previously, but it does paint the portrait of someone who was losing their grip and not taking it well.  There is an interesting discussion on his collaboration with Elvis Costello in the late 1980s and early 1990s that yielded his comeback album Flowers in the Dirt and the subsequent tour (his first since 1979). Part of what made his collaboration with Costello so effective and also short lived was the same type of relationship that also seemed to be Paul's lifelong bugbear: John Lennon.  More specifically, Carlin portrays Paul as endlessly tilting at windmills when it comes to his relationship with John Lennon and how other people perceive it.  As any longtime Beatles and/or Paul fan knows, he has made it almost his life's mission to reclaim his place in the hierarchy of the Beatles and his partnership with Lennon.  While his behavior can get a bit tiresome, even for his fans, Carlin does a good job pointing out the many ways in which Paul is actually justified in doing this: there's the famous Philip Norman biography of the Beatles titled Shout! which paints Lennon as a genius and the other three Beatles as imbecilic lackeys who were lucky to ride John's coattails to fame and fortune.  I've read the book and this is indeed how Norman portrays them, from his constant swipes at Paul, George, and Ringo to his incessant mentions of the "cow-eyed McCartney."  There has been the almost canonization of John since his tragic murder in 1980, much of it aided and abetted by Yoko Ono, where all of John's flaws and foibles have been whitewashed out of existence and he's become an almost holy figure.  Perhaps the worst bit, which Paul is quoted on in the book and for which I commend the author for pointing out, is over his frustration at how in order for John to be elevated, Paul always has to be simultaneously diminished. While Paul's effort to combat this over the years has sometimes even made his biggest fans (myself included) cringe, while reading this book you can at least understand why he has felt the need to fight it (and for the record, I agree with him).  Carlin's portrayal of Paul and Linda's thirty year marriage is very touching and the way he describes her death and its effect on Paul was very moving.  The book was published around the time that Paul had started dating (but had not yet married) his current wife, Nancy, so he does have the chance to describe the disastrous second marriage to Heather Mills.  While he doesn't get as in depth as in the Sounes book in talking about it, he does show how Paul was vulnerable and on the rebound after Linda's death and how all involved (except for Heather) like to pretend as though this never happened (not counting the young daughter Paul adores who  arose from the marriage).



At just around 350 pages, Paul McCartney: A Life seems a bit lightweight in terms of any depth or profound insight into Paul's life and career.  However, whatever it may slightly lack in gravitas it makes up for with the style of the writing. Each major event in Paul's life is written in a breezy, almost situational vignette style that puts you there with him as it happens. While some of the dialogue attributed to those involved is obviously made up so as to reflect what could have plausibly been said, quite a lot of it is taken from reputable sources; in either event, there is a good balance and it helps to make each chapter seem almost like a scene in a play. Carlin's writing style is enjoyable and he doesn't seem to have too much of an agenda.  While it is clear that he's a big Paul fan (something that Sounes didn't necessarily seem to be in his book), Carlin doesn't fall into the trap of trashing John at the expense of Paul.  There are a few unnecessary (in my view) cracks at Ringo's expense, but he's obviously a Beatles fan at heart.  There are some instances where old Beatles tropes that have been debunked or misattributed over the years are brought up that will stick out to any serious fan, but overall it's a solidly researched book. There are endnotes at the end of the book, as well as a list of people Carlin interviewed for the book so he clearly put in a lot of work researching material. While this book isn't a definitive biography, it's a solid and worthy take on Paul's life. It might not have the weight of the Sounes book, but on the whole it's much more enjoyable and satisfying. I suggest Paul fans get and read both books, but if you're only going to choose one, Carlin's book is the one you'll like more.

MY RATING: 7/10


Thursday, April 9, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Ray Davies: A Complicated Life



Ray Davies is one of the most talented, beloved, and enigmatic musicians of his (or any) generation. As the lead singer, rhythm guitarist, and chief songwriter for the Kinks, Ray emerged from the early 1960s London blues/R&B scene to become one of the greatest songwriters of all time as his band simultaneously ascended into the pantheon of great rock bands in history.  Although he continued to write countless classics over the course of the Kinks' 32 year career and is now rightly regarded as a musical treasure, as a person he has always been a bit more complicated; the use of this adjective in the title (which itself is the title of a Kinks song), is entirely apropos.  Never as openly accessible as his 60s contemporary songwriting geniuses like Lennon, McCartney, Townshend, Jagger, or Richards, Davies has always stood apart from that group even while his music stands alongside theirs.  Johnny Rogan, renowned author of defining biographies on the Smiths and Byrds, among others, has now produced a detailed look at the life and career of Ray Davies.

***special thanks to Joe at Bodley Head for sending me a copy of the book to review!***


Like any book written by Johnny Rogan, Ray Davies: A Complicated Life is an enjoyably readable, exhaustively researched, and information-packed tome that not only delves into the life of its subject but also digs deeper into their surroundings at each point of their career, helping to place every event in proper, understandable context.  Just days before I received this book, I was involved in a conversation in an online Kinks fan community where this book was being strongly derided as being of the ilk of Albert Goldman's atrocious "biography" of John Lennon.  While I know that Rogan's books have often elicited strong feelings from their subjects (Morrissey's famous wish that Rogan would die in an auto pile-up after his Smiths book was released, for example), I also know from experience that his books are exhaustively researched, annotated, and their contents generally held to be accurate; he typically presents the unvarnished truth, warts and all.  Given the fact that his subjects almost always contribute to his books during his research, I found it hard to believe that his Ray Davies book would be any different; indeed, beyond his historical research, Rogan's sources included almost all of the Kinks: Ray and Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, Mick Avory, David Quaife, John Dalton, Jim Rodford, as well as Ray's ex-wife Rasa, former managers Grenville Collins, Robert Wace, and Larry Page, former producer Shel Talmy and many, many more.  His study of Ray's life not only includes memories and direct quotes from the man himself and those who have been and still are a part of his life, but also draws upon quotes and interviews from newspapers, magazines, radio, and television from the 1960s to the present. Thus, I found it very hard to believe going in to this book that it would be any different from any of Rogan's other books, and my assumption turned out to be correct.



Beginning with a brief introduction describing his thirty-something years working on this project, including an anecdote of a recent lunch with Ray Davies where the musician's famous parsimony was still on full-display, Rogan begins the tale of Ray's life with his familial roots in Wales.  The two sides of what would become the extended Davies clan emigrated to London in the very early years of the 20th century.  Fred and Annie Davies married young and survived two world wars and a great depression while their family grew to include six daughters and an ever bustling household in the north London neighborhood of Muswell Hill.  Amidst all of this activity, the family was surprised by the arrival of Ray, the first son, in 1944. He was followed by his younger brother and lifelong musical and personal foil, Dave in 1947.  Like their eventual peers in the 1960s British rock scene, the brothers first fell under the spell of skiffle in the 1950s before rock and roll changed their lives. After a stint at art college, which he had in common with many of his peers including John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, and Eric Clapton, Ray Davies formed a band with Dave, schoolfriend Pete Quaife, and drummer John Start. After going through numerous drummers before settling on Mick Avory in early 1964 and changing their name to the Kinks, they began their long and celebrated career.  Initially emerging as one of the top singles bands of the early-to-mid 1960s, by the end of the decade they were fading commercially even though Ray was hitting his stride as a songwriter. Through multiple line-up changes and alterations in their musical direction, the Davies brothers' volatile alliance guided the Kinks through their 32 year career before they split for good in 1996.  I don't intend to get into the history of the band in this review as I've written about it extensively as well as reviewed several excellent books that focus on the entire band.  However, as the chief songwriter and absolute creative force dominating the band throughout its history, Ray Davies still remains an enigmatic and fascinating figure. While he has published two of his own memoirs, just as in his songwriting, Ray shrouds his true emotional self behind layers of obfuscation. Rogan's book also serves as a running history of the Kinks and Dave, even though as always the story returns to center on Ray.



Johnny Rogan takes the reader through the Ray's entire life, from his childhood and school days through the Kinks' entire career and Ray's subsequent life and solo career which runs to the present.  Along the way, the portrait that is painted is of a supremely talented musician, writer, and creative mind contained within an often emotionally distant, mercurial, and chameleon-like personality.  While Ray's songs and lyrics had the ability to communicate deeply held feelings and beliefs to his millions of fans worldwide, in his personal life he was almost wholly unable to let anyone see who he truly was inside.  Let me forewarn any Kinks/Ray fan that even though this book is not made up of unfounded gossip, innuendo, or rumor it contains as complete a portrait of Ray Davies as you're likely to find, flaws and all.  Nothing in here was a surprise to me having read numerous books about the band and it shouldn't be a surprise to any other fan who has a deep knowledge of the Kinks.  While Rogan certainly balances it out by also pointing out Ray's numerous virtues, the overall portrait is indeed of a conflicted, complicated, and talented man who was shaped by numerous experiences in his formative years (the two most important of which centered on two of his sisters) that shaped who he would become for the rest of his life.  While this is certainly true for all of us, in Ray's case these emotions and memories not only served as an endless well for his wonderful songs but also as a crutch that he has never seemed to be able to fully move beyond.  While always aware that he was "not like everybody else," it also manifested itself in an ugly megalomaniacal streak (especially from the middle of the Kinks' career until the end) that not only ground down and alienated his bandmates but seemingly irreparably damaged his perpetually combustible relationship with Dave.  However, it emerges that both brothers had a deep co-dependency on each other that they could never quite shake or openly acknowledge even though they were (and still are) both cognisant of it.  This is not to say that the fraternal love between them was extinguished...it's still there to this day. But theirs is a complex and confusing sibling feud that, to this outside observer at least, seems to be a negative feedback loop of resentment and jealousy.  Rogan does a good job digging into this over the course of the years, not only by using the brothers' own words as source material, but the words of all of those around them over the course of their lives: bandmates, family, managers, friends, and spouses both current and former.  As this love/hate relationship and its constant friction is the pivot point of the Kinks' entire history, it naturally is at the root of so much of what Rogan writes about throughout the book with regards to Ray. 



As with all of Johnny Rogan's books, this is exhaustively researched and annotated; thus, it's difficult for me to understand the criticisms that the book is filled with gossip and hearsay when it's all documented using the subjects' own words, along with references and endnotes giving source material for literally just about every sentence in the book.  Rather, I think what makes this segment of so many hardcore fans upset is the fact that the book shows the unvarnished Ray Davies.  I am a massive fan of Ray; I always have been and always will be, but I'm not above reading about his faults as well as his virtues. It doesn't detract from my enjoyment of his music or my admiration of him. In A Complicated Life, you get both sides of just about every story from pretty much everyone involved, including Ray himself. I see no reason why any Ray hero-worshippers should be angry about this book...Rogan is about as dispassionate an author as you'll come across.  He seems to provoke this response in both his subjects and a portion of their fans with just about all of his books...what this tells me is that he's doing something right. In addition to his usual obsessive attention to detail and great scene setting placing everything in proper context, like all of his books A Complicated Life is a pleasure to read. The narrative prose is exquisite and while the daunting length of 750+ pages is intimidating at first, the book is no chore at all to read and flows nicely and pleasantly. The book does seem to zip through the last decade rather quickly, but in a way this is understandable as much of it was covered already by Ray himself in Americana, which Rogan duly cites. The final 100 pages of the book consists of his exhaustive (and fascinating in their own right) endnotes and citations, as well as detailed discographies for the Kinks and both Ray and Dave solo.  The only things I can knock the book for are the relatively brisk treatment of the years after the Kinks' split in 1996 and a handful of typos.  I also would have liked some more detail into Ray's childhood but what there was was sufficient...at this point, I'm simply splitting hairs.



One enormous benefit Johnny Rogan had when writing this book was direct access to everyone in the Kinks, including Ray and Dave. Anything he needed clarification on was instantly answered directly from whoever he asked usually with a simple phone call (and he makes this explicitly clear).  Given the numerous people Rogan interviewed for the book, the only two who come off looking bad are former manager Larry Page and former road manager Sam Curtis.  Page comes off, at least when discussing his dealings with the band in the 1960s, as someone who thought he was more respected and better at his job than he really was...when he came back to manage them in the 1980s, it was apparent he had mellowed.  Curtis comes off as a real jerk throughout and especially does himself no favors by insulting the Davies' family home and Ray and Dave's mother.  In my estimation, this says much more about Curtis than it does the Davies.  The most welcome addition was Ray's first wife Rasa, who was such an integral part of the early Kinks sound with her high vocal harmonies.  Her perspective on Ray's life during his most creatively fertile and happiest (relatively speaking) period were a revelation.  However, even while presenting both sides of every story, this is one of those books where the caveat of "never meeting your heroes" holds true: if you're a seasoned and educated Kinks fan, nothing in here should be too shocking or surprising and it shouldn't dampen your appreciation for Ray. Indeed, he is still one of my most favorite musicians and personalities. However, if you're a Kinks/Ray fan who doesn't know much about them, this is a book that will open your eyes perhaps a bit too soon. I'd say this is not a book to start one's Kinks educational journey with, but rather one for those studying for their advanced thesis in Kinkdom.  Any complaints about this being an agenda-driven or factually inaccurate book are unfounded, at least in my opinion; I've read so many books about the Kinks over the years that I've lost count and there was nothing in this book any more insulting or critical of them that hasn't been written before. Much of it comes from the mouths of the Kinks themselves, so I'm not really sure how anyone who dislikes this book can get so up in arms about it.  It's clear that Rogan is a Kinks fan (I believe this is the third book he's written about them) but he is also not afraid to be critical of them or their music when it's warranted, which I appreciate.  Even if one disagrees with some of his opinions, they're just that: opinions.  If you're looking for a hero-worshipping look at Ray Davies, this book isn't for you; what this book is is an eminently readable and obsessively researched tome on Ray that is essential (along with his own two books) for understanding the brilliant person who has led this complicated life.

MY RATING: 9/10

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Interview with Chuck Gunderson, author of Some Fun Tonight! The Backstage Story of How the Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966

Author Chuck Gunderson

The Rock and Roll Chemist is very excited to bring you today's interview with Chuck Gunderson, author of the excellent book Some Fun Tonight which has previously been reviewed here on the site. Chuck Gunderson was raised in San Diego, California, the site of the Beatles’ eighth stop on the 1965 North American tour. He was too young to attend the show, but he fondly recalls his older siblings spinning the records of the Fab Four as he grew up, which perked a life-long love for the band. He has worked in the outdoor advertising industry most of his life, although his true passion is history. He holds two degrees in history—a B.A. from San Diego State University and an M.A. from the University of San Diego. Having published a few articles over the years, Chuck turned his sights to researching and writing this epic two-volume set on the history of the Beatles’ North American tours of 1964 to 1966. Chuck is married to Christina, and they are the parents of four children, each a self-described Beatles fan.  After reading both information-packed volumes of his book, I had a LOT of questions and Chuck was kind enough to answer them.


RNRChemist: Chuck, thanks so much for taking the time to discuss your excellent books; it's a real pleasure.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you first get into the Beatles?

CG: I am almost a first-generation fan (born in 1962), but fortunately for me, I had older brothers and a sister who were constantly spinning 45's and albums of the Beatles.  I fondly recall the Capitol swirl and later the Apple label revolving on our cheap turn table-so a fan from the very beginning of my life.

RNRChemist: What made you decide to write this book? Why focus on these specific tours from the Beatles' career?

CG: My favorite period of Beatle history is their live performances. Let's face it, they didn't start in a sterile studio but the rough and tumble stages of Liverpool and Hamburg where they logged thousands of playing hours.  Mark Lewisohn's book, "The Beatles Live!" was for certain a catalyst.  Others had written books on one or two of the tours, but they lacked detail and great photos.  I waited and waited for someone to do a definitive book on the tours like Bruce Spizer, but when no one stepped up to the plate I decided to do it myself.  I have a Master's in history, so I know how to write, research, and organize and being a huge fan made it all work out!

RNRChemist: How did you go about researching each show, tracking down the people involved, etc.?

CG: Most firsthand accounts of the Beatles playing in a city in North America were scant at best.  Newspapers of the day devoted a paragraph or two about the concert and maybe printed one photo, and almost never printed a set list of what was even sung!  So in the 8 years of research I conducted in assembling the books, I interviewed lots of people that were connected with the shows: promoters, DJ's, photographers, hotel managers, venue personnel, newsmen, fans, people from GAC (The New York talent agency that booked the shows) and of course, the Beatles' inner circle like Tony Barrow and Bernard Lee.  I'm glad I started to conduct the interviews several years ago as many have passed on.



RNRChemist: Along the same lines as above, your attention to detail is impressive, down to describing what the Beatles ate for room service. How on earth did you find all that stuff out?

CG: One interview led to another which led to another; someone would tell me, "Hey, that guy still works at the hotel the Beatles stayed at!" Great, let's find that guy and conduct an interview.  Some of the finer details of what they ate for breakfast was usually printed in primary sources like the newspaper or teen magazines.

RNRChemist: How did you track down all of that great memorabilia? Hardest piece to find? Most expensive?

CG: The vast majority is from my own personal collection.  Along with loving the music, I've been a collector for many years.  Knowing I would go broke if I collected all you can collect of the Beatles, I decided to concentrate my efforts on North American tour memorabilia: tickets, handbills, programs, posters, photographs, and documents. All of it is in the book and printed in a high quality format so you can easily read every line of a Beatles tour rider. Luckily, they weren't 50 pages long like they are today! The riders for the Beatles tours only consisted of about a page and a half.

RNRChemist: What is your overall assessment of the Beatles as a live band? I always feel that aspect of their career gets overlooked and unfairly dismissed as subpar.

CG: I think they were a fabulous live band.  I would have given anything to have seen a performance at the Cavern or any of the small cinemas they played throughout the U.K.  In America, I would have loved to have seen them at the Paramount (about 3500 seats) and of course, Shea just to say, "I was there!"  Remember, they didn't have the sound technology they have today and I just marvel how they even played a set at Shea with 55,000 plus fans screaming their lungs out!  The reason they endured as a live act was because they had had logged thousands of hours together on stage.  It was a beautiful sympathy to watch as everyone knew exactly where they were in the song despite the sound challenges.



RNRChemist: Can you discuss your thoughts on the scale of those tours relative to the time? It's always seemed as though the band grew too big for the venues they ended up playing and outpaced the logistics as well as the amp/PA technology of the era.  Fair assessment?

CG: Somewhat of a fair assessment.  Nothing on the scale of the Beatles' 1964 tour had ever been done before.  Elvis had played the Cotton Bowl in Texas in the mid to late 50s but he normally played much smaller venues than the Beatles did.  The music they were to create later, Revolver, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper simply could not be recreated on stage due to sound technology limitations.  The venues they played in North America were the biggest around and were the only options Brian and GAC had to satisfy the fans.

RNRChemist: If they'd hung on another year when amps and PAs caught up do you think they could have kept touring? Obviously they wouldn't have been able to reproduce much from Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, for example, but they could have at least been heard if they'd done stripped back versions of some of those songs.

CG: Great question! I'm just not sure on that.  I think Paul would have gone on, but George was the most vocal in giving up the stage.  Had they been able to recreate some of the newer music they were releasing, Brian may have asked them to continue touring to create more fans and make more money. It seems to fit that after they quit touring in August of 1966, Brian died a year later.  He was instrumental in creating those tours with promoters from around the world.

RNRChemist: Along the same lines, we've all read about how they were invited to play Monterey Pop in '67 and Woodstock in '69.  There is also credible evidence they had booked the Roundhouse in London for some shows in December 1968 before pulling the plug.  Given what you know about their American tours, could you have seen them actually doing those shows in an alternate universe?

CG: I don't think so.  Again, if they did Paul, most likely, had pushed for it.  Later shows featured groups that stayed on stage for an hour or two...would the Beatles do that?  I don't think so....Paul does now, but I don't think the four of them would have post-1966.

RNRChemist: Back to the American tours that are the subject of your book: what's your opinion on their musicianship on these tours? What do you think they could have done differently/better?

CG: Under the circumstances, I thought it was good.  How did Ringo hold down a beat amongst the screams? The answer: experience.  They were playing venues where the sound system was installed in the 20s, like Maple Leaf Gardens...I don't think they could have introduced anything to make the music sound better as it wasn't invented yet.

RNRChemist: Brian Epstein's business ineptitude has been detailed a lot over the years. His tour planning left a lot to be desired in terms of logistics and how the Beatles criss-crossed the country in an apparently random pattern. Do you think it all could have gone smoother had he been a better businessman and more versed how to plan the travel, for example?  I've recently read a book about their UK tours and the same thing happened where they zig-zagged all over the country with no logic behind it.

CG: Brian relied on GAC (the New York talent agency) to book the tours.  GAC knew America and knew the venues.  They presented Brian with everything but the kitchen sink as many cities wanted them.  I think Brian and the Beatles wanted to see particular cities (Las Vegas, New Orleans) that GAC may have frowned on due to size.  It was haphazard, though, playing Montreal then flying down to Jacksonville, then back up to Boston.  It seemed they were inventing the tour as they went along because they cancelled reservations of hotels they were booked to stay at.  The 1965 and 1966 tours were more logical in terms of flight plans.

RNRChemist: All of those tours and the Beatles had a road crew of two: Neil and Mal. Talk about a skeleton crew! You can't imagine anyone these days, let alone even from the early 1970s onward, going out with a crew smaller than 100. It was truly a different era...can you comment on the job Neil and Mal did on these US tours?

CG: I had Ed Freeman, who worked on the 1966 tour, tell me it took four people to set up the stage: him, Mike Owen, Mal Evans, and Neil.  They fit all the Beatles equipment into one stretch van!  For sure Mal and Neil were the backbone of the tour and I feature an image of them sitting on an amp during the 1965 tour for my dedication page on the second volume.



RNRChemist: The Beatles almost split for good after the '66 tour because of everything that had happened on the road that year.  How much do you think the sheer insanity (the endless mania, lack of privacy, screaming, etc.) of these tours contributed to their stopping playing live and never wanting to go back on the road (apart from Paul?).

CG: Even Paul called it the "Lark of touring."  Even though the U.S. '65 and '66 tours were much shorter in duration than the 1964 tour, the group was yearning to be in the studio creating new music.  Bob Eubanks, who promoted them all three years in L.A., told me that he made more money in the promotion of the 1965 Hollywood Bowl shows than the Beatles earned on stage.  Yes, they made a ton of money during the 1964 tour (over a million) but it was becoming more costly as venues were getting larger and logistics more complicated.

RNRChemist: Speaking of the mania, why do you think the crowds (mainly the girls in the crowds) felt the need to scream and shout nonstop? It's been endlessly debated over the years but I'm interested in your view of it.

CG: The Beatles, as viewed by the girls, were mostly looked at as good looking guys rather than serious musicians.  Plus they added elements into their shows that created the gasps and screams from the girls: the clothes, the hair, the head shake, the scream going into the bridge, PLUS they were handsome, let's face it!

RNRChemist: Can you comment on how spartan the conditions were for the Beatles, the biggest band in the world, on the road? Especially compared to what it would be like a few years later, they had minimal comforts and their tour rider was so innocently simple.

CG: One promoter I interviewed booked them to play in San Diego during their height of superstardom in 1965.  He only spent $33.96 on food for the ENTIRE entourage of the Beatles camp!  He had it listed on his statement which I feature in the book. In 1965 they only added these additional requests from the 1964 tour rider: four cots, mirrors, a portable T.V. set, and clean towels. Yes, very sparse compared to today's spoiled rock stars.

RNRChemist: Let's dive into the actual performances on stage.  First, how bad must it have been for the support acts? No one wanted to see them and they were shouted down by crowds who only wanted to see the Beatles and paid them very little attention. Do you think they only agreed to the support slots because of the exposure they'd get?

CG: Bill Black reportedly paid GAC a bribe to book his group on the 1964 tour.  Sadly, Bill never made it on tour as he became sick and died a year later, so he for sure wanted the exposure.  The Righteous Brothers, however, were not very happy with their slot on the tour.  In trying to sing their soulful melodies, they gave it up after 9 dates on the 1964 tour.  They were sick of fans screaming, "We want the Beatles!" Plus they made more money doing venues on the West Coast.  Brian and GAC were gracious to let them out of their contract.  All the support acts, however, were consummate professionals and played every gig. I still can't imagine what King Curtis, who was used to performing in small jazz clubs, must have felt appearing on stage at Shea Stadium to kick off the 1965 tour!



RNRChemist: Now, regarding the Beatles, here is a theory of mine that I've held to for many years and I'd like to get your opinion on it.  I've always thought that the fact that the crowds didn't even try to listen to the music was a bigger factor in their decision to stop touring than its given credit for? I mean, they've got older teenagers and adults buying their records and really listening to the records and trying to understand their more complex music, while on the other hand their concert audience is made up almost exclusively of young girl teenyboppers who do nothing but go nuts screaming without listening. As John said, they used the concerts as "bloody tribal rites" and an excuse to go crazy at the Fabs' expense. That has to wear on an artist who takes their work seriously and is trying to share it with their fans, no? Am I making too much of this?

CG: I agree with you.  Especially in 1965 and 1966.  Before the tour began in 1965 the Capitol "Help!" soundtrack was released and "Beatles VI" was released only a few months prior.  The Beatles only played three songs off those two albums and one was a cover: Dizzie Miss Lizzie. In 1966 "Revolver" was released right before the tour and not ONE song was covered on stage!  The teenie-boppers would have loved at least to hear "Yellow Submarine."  Ringo said it best in Anthology: he felt people were only coming to see them and not listen to the music.  In 1964 they could pull it off, but not for the subsequent tours that followed.

RNRChemist: Let's talk about the massive and groundbreaking 1965 tour, where they finally made the leap from theatres and auditoriums to stadiums and arenas.  They sure didn't have any problem selling out venues across the country but it seems like they were flying by the seat of their pants and barely doing it given the state of 1965 infrastructure in the USA.  Tell me what you think of this tour.

CG: Many people consider the 1965 tour the "Stadium Tour" when in fact, of the 10 cities they performed in, 5 were stadiums and 5 were arenas, the difference being if they played an arena they would always do two shows.  Plus, they didn't sell out every venue.  Of the stadiums in 1965 only Shea was a sellout and there were plenty of tickets to be had in places like San Diego and Minneapolis.

RNRChemist: Now, let's discuss the final tour of 1966: the fallout from John's "bigger than Jesus" comments, death threats and protests, Beatles memorabilia burnings, a significant amount of unsold seats, and a press that was finally antagonistic (with the Beatles responding in kind). It seemed like a perfect storm of everything that could go wrong going wrong all at once. How much of the press' behavior do you think was due to Beatle fatigue?  And how much do you think this contributed to their already fragile attitude toward touring?

CG: The press went after them in 1966.  They were asked serious questions during all three tours about politics, Vietnam, race relations and such, but it seemed the group was much too flippant for the American press to handle, especially  during the 1966 tour.  They just didn't care anymore and looked at the tours as a business obligation to be fulfilled.  In 1966 they cut back on formal press conference and preferred "Press Tapings" where a reporter would get with an individual Beatle for a series of questions. They did 25 formal press conferences in 33 days in 1964, but by 1966 they only did 6 or 7 formal sessions with the press.  Fatigue was a factor, but they were tired of answering the same "type" questions from city to city.



RNRChemist: Even considering all of what happened in 1966, it's always seemed as though the Beatles were adored much more in the US than in their native UK. This seems to hold true even more today, where the UK press has no problem taking swipes at Paul or Ringo whereas they are almost 100% loved here.  Why do you think America did and still does hold the Beatles dearer than their native England?

CG: America put the "stamp" on the Beatles.  In a worldly sense, I would say New York City is the center of everything Beatle.  Plus the Beatles were not here on American soil a ton as everyone seems to think.  As a matter of fact, the group as a whole only stood on American soil for a total of 90 days...maybe limited exposure? People always want more than they are getting!

RNRChemist: What was the most surprising and/or interesting thing you discovered when working on the book?  Were there any crazy rock and roll stories from the road you uncovered that didn't make the final cut that you can share with us?

CG: I pretty much shared everything.  It was a planned one volume book of about 350 pages, but when I started uncovering stories and photos that had never been seen I just had to share. I'm a fan first and wanted to give the fans the best I could give them for the money.  So it morphed into 2 volumes and over 600 pages and I even threw in a slipcase!  Some people are taken back on the price of $175, but if Genesis did a project like this fans would be paying $600 to $800.  Plus, I put all the bells and whistles on this project: extra thick paper, spot varnish on all the photos and memorabilia, just a complete quality project, plus hundreds of unpublished photos.  I busted lots of myths that had been held for years, so read the books to find out!

RNRChemist: You did indeed do a great job with the presentation of the books...they are gorgeous and as nice to look at as they are to read!  Okay, now for some personal questions:

Which of the American tours do you think was the best, and why?

CG: 1964: new and fresh. Exhaustive in that they did 32 shows in 33 days!



RNRChemist: Musically, which is your favorite concert (I'm assuming you've heard recordings? My personal favorites from the US tours are the Hollywood Bowl shows from '64 and '65, Shea Stadium '65, and Atlanta '65. Philly from '64 is a great one, too).

CG: Atlanta 1965 is my favorite and not because they had feedback monitors; they didn't... another myth broken and a great story in the book.

RNRChemist: What's your favorite song they did live? Least favorite? How about one you wish they played in concert?  What about one they played live that you wish they hadn't?

CG: Most favorite: without a doubt, "Long Tall Sally:" it's a cover song but was the inspiration for my title and the last song they ever sung live, albeit only just over 30 seconds on tape because Tony Barrow's tape ran out...aagghhhh! Least favorite: Yesterday (Sorry, Paul). My wish: I Saw Her Standing There...One, Two, Three, Faaaoorrr!!! Great starter.

RNRChemist: Did you ever see the Beatles live? How about any of them solo?

CG: I wish I had; they came to San Diego in 1965 but I was only 3! I've seen Paul and Ringo several times...if you haven't, you need to see them!

RNRChemist: I saw Paul in 2013 and Ringo last summer and I agree, they were fantastic and must-see for any Beatles fans! Any future Beatles project coming up? Maybe a book on other tours they did?

CG: I would love to do another project and have some ideas in mind, but right now I'm concentrating on selling this book, so please buy it! Thanks so much for the interview...great questions!

RNRChemist: Chuck, thanks so much for enlightening us with your Beatles knowledge and discussing your book with us...it was a real pleasure to speak with you! And to my readers, I cannot recommend Chuck's books enough; if you're a serious Beatles fan, you need these! Once again, thank you, Chuck!